Dem Convention Begins: Time To Suspend Disbelief

By Ruth Conniff | If the all-too-familiar sight of a slightly paunchy Joe Biden jogging to the podium, his white comb-over waving gently in the breeze (think “energy!”) to accept the job as Barack Obama’s Vice Presidential pick wasn’t enough to give you pause, there was the Bidenesque speech that followed. The “change” campaign is now co-chaired by one of the longest serving members of the Senate, who voted for the Iraq war (though he later repented), and who has a hesitant, ponderous style that doesn’t exactly accentuate the new-generation excitement of the Obama campaign.

Obama picked Biden for obvious reasons. Chief among them is the fear of looking weak on foreign policy. He now has an older white guy straight out of the Washington establishment–chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, three decades in the Senate–to back him up. He is also making an obvious play for the ever-elusive white, working class voters who started going Republican in the Reagan era. The Democrats have been trying to recapture them every since. Hence Biden’s heavy use of the words “Scranton” “Irish Catholic” and “kitchen table.” Maybe Biden will reassure these skittish voters. Stranger things have happened. (See Hillary Clinton’s transformation into a working class hero during the everlasting primary season).

But there are dangers in the Biden selection, too. It is, first of all, a defensive choice. Instead of leaning forward with a Tim Kaine, who redoubles Obama’s youth appeal, or a Wes Clark, who is willing to attack McCain by aiming, point blank, at the heart of his campaign–questioning whether his POW experience means he is entitled to sit in the White House–Obama chose someone he can throw in front critics who suggest that he is unready to deal with a foreign policy or national security crisis. Being on the defensive keep the “unready” charge alive. And the contrast between Biden and Obama does not favor Obama. When, in his speech, Biden talked about how amazing it was to see Obama arrive in the Senate and do “historic” work, “reaching across the aisle” to pass ethics reform, it mainly served to remind the audience what a short time Obama has spent there. To say he has accomplished a lot , legislatively, is a pretty big stretch.

Today, as the Democratic Convention begins, the party is making its traditional pitch to voters to suspend their disbelief. It began with an appeal emailed to supporters asking for small donations. There is a snazzy video clip of the nominee and his running mate talking about the small-donor revolution. The campaign, Biden says in the video, “is accountable only to the people.” Pay no attention to those corporate sky boxes.

The candidates look good together standing in front of matching American flags in their dark suits–Obama in a red tie and Biden in a blue one. As they talk in turns, nodding, arms folded, reinforcing each other on the importance of “change” and fighting the Republicans’ “Rove playbook” they seem to have their message together. “Change” is still the theme song. But the tone, as the convention pageant begins, is a little more somber.